I’ve been trying to participate in Steve Dembo’s challenge, 30 days to being a better blogger. As part of that, I decided my focus was going to be on posting more frequently to this blog. As I drove back and forth to work the last few days (which, aside from the shower, is when I do most of my thinking), I contemplated what my next article might be about.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with my 11-year-old son and getting him to care about turning in his homework. He does his homework, but just doesn’t turn it in. Let me back up a bit – he turns in his homework and gets good grades in every subject except English and Reading. He has As in all his other subjects.
My son has some issues with accepting responsibility for his actions, and being motivated to work on subjects that are unchallenging to him (he is an excellent writer and has read far above his level since second grade). I accept that, and I initially decided not to step in to talk with his English teacher, even though I believe some of her practices to be defeating. She is a second-year teacher, who, as many second-year teachers do, has an attitude of “I’ve got the power!” (doot doot do do doot).
As the school year has progressed, however, I find myself talking to his teacher about her assignments, her grading policies, and her attitude. This is a strange area for me, because even though I have five children in the school system, I have never stepped in and flexed my own muscles when it came to how my children are being taught. Don’t get me wrong, my kids have had some bad teachers — but I have always encouraged them to learn how to deal with varying teaching styles and learn something out of that process, if not the content the teacher is supposed to be teaching.
All that said, my experience with this teacher has not been very productive. She consistently stands by her decisions, even when over three-quarters of her students are in the same sinking boat my son is. Today, I will go have a conference with her and the principal – this is a momentous occasion, as I have never felt compelled to call a conference with any of my children’s teachers before now.
What does all this have to do with my blog? I got to thinking about this whole situation and realized this is a common issue with new teachers, so I wanted to say a few things:
1. Yes, you need to stick to your guns and be consistent with the track you have decided to take — but that track doesn’t have to be a straight line. Being flexible and willing to admit your own mistakes goes a long way towards teaching your students that they are valid, that they can affect change when they make a good, logical argument, and that adults (especially teachers) do not have the solitary purpose of making their lives miserable.
2. If more than half of your students are failing, I hate to say this, but a teacher must look at themselves. Is there something in your teaching style that hides your expectations from your students? My son has consistently been frustrated, saying “I don’t understand what she wants”. Is there another way to present the information? If your students didn’t get it one way, show them another. Ask another teacher for advice or a different approach.
3. Yes, you have the power. You are in fact the dictator in your classroom. You can do whatever you want, as long as it falls within the ethics we must all follow as teachers. However, just because you have the power doesn’t mean you need to be in there flexing your muscles and saying “I will break you.” Think of your power this way — you have a class full of young minds who are open and easily molded. You have the power to make your students believe that learning is fun and a positive experience. You have the power to let your students know that you care about their success AFTER they leave your classroom – you aren’t just there to try to trip them up on the details. You have the power to be a role model for some students who don’t have good ones at home or in their community. Tap into THAT power, not the dictatorship!
As a teacher, there were times that I started a class period off saying “I messed up. Let’s back up and start this again.” There were other times that I started a class period saying “The class average on that test was 35 – clearly I didn’t get something across – let’s do this again.” I remember the day in my first year of teaching when the lights came on in one of my students’ eyes. It was a day after I said that second sentence – everyone had failed miserably on an OPEN BOOK test! I followed that sentence with “you know, I don’t write these tests in the hope that I can make you fail. I want you to succeed, and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.” This particular student looked at me and said “I actually think you’re telling the truth!” After that day, my students had a new respect for me because they knew that I wasn’t really there as a science teacher, I was there as an adult who wanted to do what I could to help them succeed after they left my classroom.
You’ve got the power! Be responsible with it.